Study Finds SoCal Mountain Lions in Danger of Extinction

This June 11, 2018 photo provided by the National Park Service shows a mountain lion kitten identified as P-69. This is one of four new mountain lion kittens found by researchers studying the wild cats living in Southern California’s Santa Monica Mountains. They’re the first litter of kittens found in the Simi Hills, a small area of habitat between the Santa Monica and Santa Susana mountains ranges just north of Los Angeles. (National Park Service via AP, File)

LOS ANGELES (CN) – A study released Wednesday describes a dire scenario for mountain lions in California’s Santa Monica and Santa Ana mountains, as researchers say habitat loss and a lack of genetic diversity will drive the local population to extinction over the next decade.

Mountain lions in the region have lost large parts of their habitat due to human development, and busy highways keep them from expanding their territory.

Inbreeding among the big cats has limited their genetic diversity and pushed them toward extinction, according to the study published in Ecological Application on Wednesday.

Researchers said their models show a simple solution can help the local populations: more connectivity. That means giving the big cats the ability to connect with other groups of mountain lions to increase genetic diversity and ensure the adult survival rate goes up.

“Our work highlights that conservation of large carnivores is achievable within urbanized landscapes, but requires land protection, connectivity and strategies to promote coexistence with humans,” the study authors said.

This week, Ventura County in Southern California approved a wildlife corridor ordinance that aims to help protect wildlife by restricting development near streams and limiting fences and lighting that might harm animals.

The result will bridge protected habitats between Los Padres National Forest and the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The new zoning also lays the foundation for overpass crossings giving mountain lions the ability to cross over busy highways.

Wednesday’s study details two pockets of mountain lions that have been isolated due to development. According to models, the isolation has led to a dip in population growth and given rise to extinction probability.

Researchers explain without more genetic diversity there will be a 16 to 21 percent probability of local extinction in the Santa Ana Mountains, where the mortality rate was higher than the Santa Monica Mountains.

Still, the loss of genetic diversity will be greater in the Santa Monica Mountains and will likely result in the big cats’ extinction over the next 15 years. Based on their models, the Santa Ana Mountain lions have about 11 years if current trends continue.

Researchers from UCLA, UC Davis and the National Park Service conducted the study.

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